Red Sox’ Mike Napoli feels that he is in a good place
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Mike Napoli watched the Super Bowl at the Lincoln Tavern in Southie and sprayed joyous Patriots fans with champagne when the game ended.
Napoli, who was wearing a Rob Gronkowski jersey, then took to Twitter and invited fellow revelers to join him at the Cure Lounge on Tremont Street to continue the celebration. Several took him up on it.
“We had a good time,” said Napoli, whose smile suggested it was much more than that.
Napoli grew up in South Florida rooting for the Miami Dolphins but has come to consider himself a Bostonian after two seasons with the Red Sox. He is friendly with several of the Patriots and Bruins players, frequents restaurants in the North End, and has even become accustomed to the cold and snow.
“My friends back home can’t believe it,” Napoli said Friday. “But the city has grown on me. Just being in Boston and seeing all the fans with the teams, it’s a part of me now.”
Napoli didn’t have much of a choice this winter. He had surgery on his right big toe in October to remove painful bone spurs. Two weeks after that, Napoli was at Massachusetts General Hospital for 10 days after undergoing jaw reconstruction surgery to cure an intractable case of sleep apnea.
Napoli stayed in Boston while rehabilitating from the procedures and developed a deeper appreciation for the city. As he enters the final year of his contract with the Sox, the first baseman hopes that relationship will continue.
“I’m not worried about that right now,” he said, “but I’d love to stay here. I’m comfortable with this team and with the city. We’ll see what happens.”
Napoli, 33, has hit a modest .254 in two seasons with the Red Sox but has an .818 OPS along with 40 home runs and 147 RBIs. The converted catcher also has played well at first base, saving 17 runs over the last two seasons based on data from Baseball Info Solutions. When healthy, his presence in the lineup has been formidable.
If Napoli has a strong season, the Red Sox will be tempted to retain him. But the team also has Allen Craig, a first baseman and corner outfielder, under contract through 2017 with the Sox holding an option for ’18.
Craig had an .863 OPS and 229 RBIs in 328 games for the St. Louis Cardinals from 2011-13. A foot injury led to a sharp downtown in his production last season. If Craig is able to rebound, he would represent a replacement for Napoli at a lower salary.
For now, Napoli is concerned only with his preparation. He compares this spring training with that of 2013, when he reported to camp dealing with a degenerative hip condition. The Red Sox held him out of games early on before Napoli worked his way into the lineup in March.
“I’m a little behind, but working hard to get to where I need to be,” Napoli said. “That hip thing shut down my whole offseason and everybody was being cautious with me. I was like, ‘Let me go, I’ll be fine.’ ”
As much as he enjoys Boston, Napoli is no fool. Once the Red Sox training staff relocated to JetBlue Park, he got out of the snow and reported to spring training. He worked out Friday, taking swings in the batting cage.
“I like getting to camp early and being able to be outside to hit, throw, and progress how I want to,” he said. “This is where I needed to be.”
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Lefthanded reliever Craig Breslow, who started the last two seasons on the disabled list with shoulder pain, played catch with athletic trainer Brad Pearson. “I feel like a normal guy again,” Breslow said. “Everything feels good.” . . . Eight minor league players were invited to spring training: righthander Keith Couch, righthander Dalier Hinojosa, lefthander Brian Johnson, lefthander Henry Owens, shortstop Deven Marrero, righthander Noe Ramirez, catcher Matt Spring, and infielder Jemile Weeks. Couch, Johnson, and Spring will be in a major league camp for the first time.
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Jackie Bradley Jr., Tommy Layne, Justin Masterson, and Blake Swihart also worked out on the field . . . Manager John Farrell is already here and watched some of the bullpen sessions . . . With Hanley Ramirez requesting No. 13, third base coach Brian Butterfield will switch to No. 55. Christian Vazquez drops from 55 to No. 7. The catcher asked for the number to pay tribute to Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.